Chauvinism

Jokes are a way of dealing with anxiety. There is a class of jokes dealing with extraterrestrial life. In one, the extraterrestrial visitor lands on Earth, walks up to a gasoline pump or a gumball machine - the accounts differ - and asks, What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this Elsewhere, beings are doubtless very different from us. But the joke assumes that extraterrestrial organisms will be, if not like human beings, then like gasoline pumps or gumball machines. The most likely...

Some of My Best Friends Are Dolphins

The first scientific conference on the subject of communication with extraterrestrial intelligence was a small affair sponsored by the U. S. National Academy of Sciences in Green Bank, West Virginia. It was held in 1961, a year after Project Ozma, the first (unsuccessful) attempt to listen to possible radio signals from civilizations on planets of other stars. Subsequently, there were two such meetings held in the Soviet Union sponsored by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Then, in September...

The Canals of Mars

In 1877 (as in 1971) the planet Mars was close - forty million miles from Earth. European astronomers, with newly developed telescopes, prepared for what was then Man's most detailed look at our planetary neighbor. One of them was Giovanni Schiaparelli, an Italian observing in Milan and a collateral relative of the present couturier and perfume enterpriser. Generally speaking, the telescopic view of Mars was blurred and fuzzy, interrupted by the variable turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere...

The Ancient and Legendary Gods of

The sorts of scientific problems that I am involved in - the environments of other planets, the origin of life, the possibility of life on other worlds - engage the popular interest. This is no accident. I think all human beings are excited about these fundamental problems, and I am lucky enough to be alive at a time when it is possible to perform scientific investigation of some of these problems. One result of popular interest is that I receive a great deal of mail, all kinds of mail, some of...

Venus Is Hell

The planet Venus floats, serene and lovely, in the sky of Earth, a bright pinpoint of yellowish-white light. Seen or photographed through a telescope, a featureless disc is discerned a vast unbroken and enigmatic cloud layer shields the surface from our view. No human eye has seen the ground of our nearest planetary neighbor. But we now know a great deal about Venus. From radio telescope and space-vehicle observations, we know that the surface temperature is about 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The...

Astroengineering

In a by now much quoted and possibly even apocryphal story, the nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi asked, during a luncheon conversation at Los Alamos in the middle 1940s, Where are they If there are vast numbers of beings more advanced then we, he was musing, why have we seen no sign of them - by a visitation to Earth, for example We have discussed this problem in Chapters 27 and 28. But there is another formulation of Fermi's question. A civilization a hundred years in our technological future...

The Cosmic Connection

From earliest times, human beings have pondered their place in the universe. They have wondered whether they are in some sense connected with the awesome and immense cosmos in which the Earth is imbedded. Many thousands of years ago a pseudoscience called astrology was invented. The positions of the planets at the birth of a child were supposed to play a major role in determining his or her future. The planets, moving points of light, were thought, in some mysterious sense, to be gods. In his...

Part Two The Solar System

There was a time - and very recently - when the idea of the possibility of learning the composition of the celestial bodies was considered senseless even by prominent scientists and thinkers. That time has now passed. The idea of the possibility of a closer, direct study of the universe will today, I believe, appear still wilder. To step out onto the soil of asteroids, to lift with your hand a stone on the moon, to set up moving stations in ethereal space, and establish living rings around the...

The Moons of Barsoom

In my boyhood I was lucky enough to come upon a set of turgidly written novels with names like Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Chessman of Mars, The Princess of Mars, The Warlords of Mars, and so on. They were, needless to say, about Mars. But they were not about our Mars - the Mars revealed by Mariner 9. At least I don't think our Mars is like the Mars of these novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the inventor of Tarzan. His Mars was Percival Lowell's Mars - a planet of ancient sea bottoms, working...

The Unicorn of Cetus

In the night sky, when the air is clear, there is a cosmic Rorschach test awaiting us. Thousands of stars, bright and faint, near and far, in a glittering variety of colors, are peppered across the canopy of night. The eye, irritated by randomness, seeking order, tends to organize into patterns these separate and distinct points of light. Our ancestors of thousands of years ago, who spent almost all their time out of doors in a pollution-free atmosphere, studied these patterns carefully. A rich...

Civilizations

To deal with the possibility of enormously advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, the Soviet astrophysicist N. S. Kardashev has proposed a distinction in terms of the energy available to a civilization for communications purposes. A Type I civilization is able to muster for communications purposes the equivalent of the entire present power output of the planet Earth - which is now used for heating, electricity, transportation, and so on a large variety of purposes other than communication...

The Venus Detective Story

One of the reasons that planetary astronomy is such a delight these days is that it is possible to find out what's really right. In the old days, you could make any guess you liked, however improbable, about a planetary environment, and there was little chance that anyone could ever prove you wrong. Today, spacecraft hang like swords of Damocles over each hypothesis spun by planetary theoreticians, and the theoreticians can be observed in a curious amalgam of hope and fear as each new burst of...

Passage to Elsewhen

One of the most pervasive and entrancing ideas of science fiction is time travel. In The Time Machine, the classic story by H. G. Wells, and in most subsequent renditions, there is a small machine, constructed usually by a solitary scientist in a remote laboratory. One dials the year of interest, steps into the machine, presses a button, and presto, here's the past or the future. Among the common devices in time-travel stories are the logical paradoxes that accompany meeting yourself several...

Has the Earth Been Visited

By far the cheapest way of communicating with the Earth, if you're a representative of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, is by radio. A single bit of radio information, sent winging across space to the Earth, would cost far less than a penny. A radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence seems, therefore, a very reasonable place for us to begin. But should we not examine other possibilities closer to home Wouldn't we look silly if we expended a major effort listening for radio...